Last week my mother and grandmother were in town, and we escaped the blistering heat by visiting the Carnegie Museum of Art. I hadn’t been there in well over 10 years, and very little has changed. What has changed, though, is my experience in art and awareness of social and historical context of its creation.
My first peeve arose when I made my way back to the Asian art gallery. Indian was next to Greek next to Egyptian next to Chinese next to more Indian – no subdivision whatsoever showing how distinct art from different cultures is. It was a paltry selection, too, one small hall against the fifteen to twenty halls showcasing European and American art. There’s just no excuse for, at a bare minimum, putting the three or four Chinese pieces next to each other – not to mention, last I checked, Egypt was part of Africa, not Asia. (They had an African art hall too, but it was even tinier than the Asian one.)
The Asian Art hall also featured a very nice statue of Shiva, the “Auspicious One” of Hindu mythology. Except that he was… missing something. As you can see in the above picture, there is a very obvious hole – not a break, not a blank spot, a hole – where his phallus should be. I wanted to weep and laugh at once. Western prudery strikes again, scattering desecration in its wake.
In the hall of Works on Paper were a number of sketches by Francisco Goya, who I had known primarily for his painting. It seems he was also quite the commentator on social issues in his art, though, clothing in satire some quite serious critiques of entrenched power differentials in his society. Much of this bent in his work appears to have started after he became deaf in 1792. As I am also deaf, and turning my own work to critiques of society and progressive justice, It shouldn’t be a surprise to return readers why I am drawn to this. I will have to study his work more.
My eye was caught by several other pieces by artists I was unfamiliar with. Albert Moore‘s Acacias was a study for his larger work Dreamers. I was caught by the vivid texture and light in the fabric, and the contrast between its energy and the serenity in her face. Just plain lovely.
I was then arrested by the Cubist gallery. Poor art historian that I am, I often forget that Picasso was not the only, or even the best, Cubist. Below are two of my favorites, Covert’s Untitled (Don Quixote) (left) and Macdonald-Wright’s Sunrise Synchromy in Violet (right). Photographs never do Cubist works justice. The depth and vibrancy of the colors, the dynamism of the shapes, makes these works jump out and grab you, pulling you into a kaleidoscope world.
Finally, we come to Carter’s War Bride, painted in 1940 by a Carnegie Tech professor whose female students were marrying young men who were immediately sent off to war. It is creepy and ominous. The bride in loving, hyper-realistic detail, the machine looming, ready to grind her to pieces, in the same smooth textures as war propaganda from that period. I am also reminded of our culture’s fascination with romanticizing war and misery, how someone can be looking tragedy in the face and see only the potential for glory.
Despite my issues with its presentation of non-Western art, the CMOA is a lovely museum, one I look forward to returning to frequently.